An Eric Rohmer season opens today at BFI Southbank in London and runs through January 27. “Most people know that Rohmer is very French, very chilly, very flat and very static,” writes Michael Newton in the Guardian. “However, what most people know is entirely wrong. He explores situations of universal interest with warmth, an openness to visual beauty and, at times, a feel for suspense that shows his debt to Hitchcock. The accusation that he’s ‘literary’ and that his films are ‘talky’ is truer—but to me, the passion, the observational intelligence, the humor of those conversations is bliss. Rohmer comprehends the beauty of the almost.”
BFI programer Geoff Andrew: “Like his nouvelle vague colleagues (especially Godard), Rohmer—born Maurice Schérer—had a personal mission. For him, film was the ideal artform for engaging with reality, particularly the inner world of feelings and thoughts. Subtly counterpointing words, gestures, glances and actions, his witty, affecting tales of intelligent, articulate, recognizably ‘ordinary’ people trying to fathom what kind of life and lover they’d like are psychologically astute and profoundly compassionate. Co-author of a study of Hitchcock, he was adept at suspense; well-versed in the arts, he made his stories of longing and seduction resonate in all sorts of ways.”
“It is hard to express in a compelling, unhysterical fashion why Eric Rohmer’s rhapsodic 1986 film, The Green Ray, stands among the headiest pinnacles of modern cinematic art,” writes David Jenkins at Little White Lies. “It’s not a revolutionary film in any traditional sense of the word, and it’s also a film whose modest concerns and production methods belie profound and intangible cosmic depths. Yet there are things about it—near-imperceptible touches and quietly radical formulations—which lend it a unique, quixotic quality which pushes it far above and beyond its contemporaries.”
Back to Geoff Andrew, who notes that, for The Green Ray, Rohmer “decided that all he and his actress Marie Rivière (who’d already appeared in 1978’s Perceval le Gallois and had a major role in The Aviator’s Wife, 1980) needed to do was to come up with a simple framework for the lead character and the overall narrative—a somewhat picky, even solitary young woman spends the summer trying out different holiday options around France—and off they went, filming improvised scenes with members of Rivière’s family, friends, regulars from Rohmer’s group of young actors, and complete strangers encountered during their travels. The results of their efforts are engrossing, funny, touching, revealing in all sorts of ways, and—by the very end—quite extraordinarily moving.”
Rohmer’s A Tale of Winter (1992) is screening at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York through Thursday and, at the Talkhouse Film, Nathan Silver (Exit Elena, Soft in the Head) urges you to catch it if you can: “We have something here that presents the craziness of love so elegantly and forcefully that it’s necessary viewing for every human interested in matters of the heart (which is most of you, I hope). Here, as in many of his other films, Rohmer asks us to have faith in circumstance, and in our own delusions, but here, in particular, makes us acknowledge how absurd love is, how selfish it can make us. In the winter light of the movie, we can very clearly see the trail of psychological corpses the main character, Félicie (Charlotte Véry), leaves behind in pursuit of her one true love. ‘How many corpses have you left behind?’ is the question that nags long after you finish the movie. ‘Are you sleeping beside a future corpse?’ is the question that immediately follows.”
Greg Gerke in the Notebook: “Sometimes mistakenly branded intellectual, his cinema is the personification of the Shakespearian invocation at the beginning of Twelfth Night, ‘If music be the food of love, play on…’ His music is talk and the talk is of love, and though it can stray into discussions of Plato, Pascal, and Kant, its end is the heart because the fleshy fist ultimately decides who we stay with and who we leave, who’s in and who’s out—the fist answers Rohmer’s main question, Who, out of all the people I attract or I’m attracted to, is my type?… As his screenplay portrays the innards of characters like a consummate playwright, it’s no surprise Rohmer wrote extensively before filmmaking, trafficking in fiction, journalism, and criticism (he would be the editor of Cahiers du Cinéma). He can be said to have a plain style of mise en scène, similar to that of Murnau and Renoir, or Alice Munro and the John Williams of Stoner in writing.”
Updates, 1/2: For the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw, The Green Ray “conjures the 80s more powerfully than any number of yuppies or padded shoulders. It features characters with cigarettes instead of mobile phones; there is aimless dialogue about what to do over the summer (Woody Allen is the only other director to give his characters quite so much leisure in the middle of the year), frizzy and studenty hair, and allegedly straight guys wearing the most extraordinary clothes. With its improvised dialogue, and walking-pace narrative, The Green Ray looks like a documentary about a fictional character.”
It’s Rohmer’s “best work and arguably one of the greatest films ever made,” adds Craig Williams at CineVue. “It’s a film of unwavering humanity—unflinching in the face of prickly, tangled emotions—and yet it is defined by a strange, magical diversion towards the metaphysical.”
Update, 1/10: At Little White Lies, David Jenkins writes up his top ten Rohmers. #1: The Green Ray. “Simply put, this is one of the greatest films ever made, if not the greatest. Sorry hyperbole haters, but there’s no way around it. (Viagra OTC) ”
“Some moments suggest an inconsequential comedy about people talking nonsense,” writes Jonathan Romney in the Observer, but it’s “also a serious film, and a sad one, a perspicaciously empathetic study of solitude, depression and anxiety.”
On behalf of the BFI, David Parkinson presents a primer: “Eric Rohmer for beginners.”
Update, 1/11: “A Summer’s Tale (1996), the third installment of Eric Rohmer’s Tales of the Four Seasons, had its belated United States opening in June and is now on Blu-ray and DVD from Big World Pictures,” notes J. Hoberman in the New York Times. “Gaspard, a diffident math student with musical aspirations, takes his vacation on the Breton coast planning to meet up with his kind-of girlfriend, Léna. While waiting, he strikes up a friendship with a pert waitress, Margot (Amanda Langlet, who 13 years before played the title character in Pauline at the Beach), and contemplates an affair with another local. There is more talk than action, but much of it concerns the nature of love…. Mr. Rohmer, who died at 89 in 2010, was the master of ambivalence. His creatures are sympathetic and annoying, their entanglements dull yet fascinating.”
Update, 1/15: Take a look at the “ballot sent to Sight & Sound magazine for their second ever once-a-decade poll to determine the greatest films ever made reveals the 10 favorite films of Eric Rohmer in 1961.” The BFI’s Samuel Wigley: “At this point, Rohmer was known as a film critic for the Parisian journal Cahiers du Cinéma. He had made his directorial debut with Le Signe du lion (1959), but had not yet achieved the international acclaim that would be his later in the 60s, after the release of such ‘moral tales’ as La Collectionneuse (1967) and My Night with Maud (1969). In his own words, his 10 choices ‘are the films that, if the cinema were to disappear, would give the best idea of its greatest successes.’”
Update, 1/18: Jonathan Rosenbaum‘s posted his 1976 review of Die Marquise von O… (1976), a piece written in 2000 on Perceval le Gallois (1978) and a brief 1999 take on Autumn Tale (1998).
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